The Fruit of the Spirit

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (vv. 16–17).

- Galatians 5:16–26

Human beings love the unusual and the extraordinary. That helps to explain the fascination with tongues-speaking and with those who claim to have the gifts of healing and prophecy in our day. No one wants to be absent when something fantastic occurs, and no one wants to miss the opportunity to be more spiritual if all that it takes is a one-time infusion of the Holy Spirit’s power.

What we do not often see, however, is many people asking how they can be more righteous or more holy. That is actually the question that they should be asking, for the Bible tells us again and again that one of the key jobs of the Spirit in applying the work of Christ to our souls is our sanctification, our growth in holiness (1 Peter 1:1–2). Dr. R.C. Sproul has noted how important it is that Scripture gives the third person of the Trinity the title Holy Spirit. Although the Bible certainly understands the Father and the Son to be holy, they are not given the titles Holy Father or Holy Son. This difference points to the special role of the Spirit in helping us become holy in practice.

By His sanctifying power, we begin to bear spiritual fruit in our lives, and the pursuit of this fruit is to be our focus, not the pursuit of spiritual gifts in themselves. The goal of such gifts, rather, is to help others and ourselves grow into spiritual fruitfulness. Paul teaches us as much in today’s passage, explaining that as we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16–17). The contrast the Apostle makes between flesh and Spirit is not a contrast between the physical and the spiritual, but between our fallenness and our new hearts and minds granted by the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, we are declared righteous in Christ and forgiven, the power of sin having been broken. But the presence of sin remains, and it will be present until our deaths or the return of Christ, whichever comes first. By admonishing us to bear spiritual fruit, the Apostle indicates that the struggle against the flesh is ongoing, for if it were not, there would be no need to command us to walk in the Spirit. Other passages, such as Romans 7 and 1 John 1:8–9, tell us explicitly that we will struggle against sin until we are glorified.

No Christian can manifest all the gifts of the Spirit, for no one believer has been granted all of His gifts (1 Cor. 12:1–11). However, bearing every fruit of the Spirit is not an option. We should see all of the fruit listed in Galatians 5:22–24 in our lives.

Coram Deo

The standard for bearing fruit as we advance in sanctification is not perfection. Scripture tells us we will not walk in perfect holiness until we are glorified, and our need for perfection in order to stand before God unafraid is met in Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to us. But if His righteousness has been imputed to us, then His Spirit is sanctifying us. So, unless we see love, joy, peace, and every other spiritual fruit growing, however fitfully, in our lives, we are not Christians.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 32:14–20
Romans 5:5; 14:17
2 Timothy 1:7
James 3:13–18

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